Legendary Baresi backs Sunderland coach

AC Milan's Paolo Di Canio during the Steve Harper Testimonial at St James' Park, Newcastle.
AC Milan's Paolo Di Canio during the Steve Harper Testimonial at St James' Park, Newcastle.
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FRANCO Baresi says Paolo Di Canio “enjoyed” his outing at St James’s Park – despite the boos from Newcastle fans and a boot from Joey Barton.

The Sunderland manager played the full 90 minutes of Steve Harper’s charity match between a Newcastle XI and AC Milan Glorie last night.

After the game ended goalless, Di Canio scored one of the two Milan penalties which gave the visiting team a 2-1 win in the shootout.

Di Canio’s every touch was booed by home supporters – and he was also fouled by ex-United midfielder Barton, who had joked on Twitter about “emptying him out” in the build-up to the game. The kick drew one of the biggest cheers of the night.

But legendary Milan defender Baresi – who shared a dressing room with a young Di Canio at Milan in the mid-1990s – said Di Canio relished the experience of playing behind enemy lines.

“I think Paolo enjoyed the match,” Baresi said.

“He came even though he knew this wasn’t the best stadium for him as Sunderland are big rivals of Newcastle. He’s a big player and a big man to play with a smile on his face.”

The game was watched by a 50,793 crowd, and Baresi – who was substituted early in the second half – said it had been a memorable experience.

“It was a fantastic night and a fantastic atmosphere,” said the 53-year-old.

“I want to say thank you to all the fans who filled the stadium. I was very happy for Steve. It was a successful event. It was for charity, but we wanted to play well for the people. We trained hard for this game.”

Easington-born Harper, who marked his 20 years with Newcastle by staging the charity match, said: “It was brilliant. I can’t thank the fans enough for buying into the concept of what we wanted to do.

“I’d love to thank each and every fan. And I can’t thank Milan enough for their help, and the lads from my 20 years coming back. The problem was getting them all on the pitch. We managed to do that.

“The tempo of the game got better as the game went on. The oldies weren’t too happy kicking up the hill in the first half.

“Barring a couple of fantastic saves from (Sebastiano) Rossi and (Massimo) Taibi, we might have won the game. But sadly the Invincibles came out on top of the Entertainers in a very impromptu penalty shootout.”

The game was sedate in the early stages, though that suited Milan. After soaking up some early pressure, they had Newcastle pinned back in their half.

It took a fine save from Harper to deny Paolo Maldini an opening goal, and Gianluigi Lentini almost got on the end of an inviting low cross from Di Canio, easily the most industrious player in the first half hour.

In fact, Di Canio looked like he could still do a job for Sunderland!

At the other end of the pitch, an overhead kick from sub Faustino Asprilla was blocked.

Lee Bowyer also forced a save from Rossi with a low drive.

The second half was punctuated by changes – Barton and Kevin Nolan were among those introduced – after Asprilla had a header ruled out for offside.

Taibi denied substitutes Alan Thompson and Paul Kitson, and Andy Cole struck the post.

After the 0-0 draw, Milan won 2-1 on penalties, with Thompson netting for United. Srnicek was in goal for Newcastle, and Harper saw his spot-kick saved.

NEWCASTLE: Harper (Given, Srnicek); Solano (Watson, Stone), Peacock (Kilcline, Bernard), Dabizas, Beresford (Pistone); Fox (Gillespie, Kitson, Nolan), Bowyer (Barton), Lee (Butt, Nolan, E Speed), Ginola (Sellars, Thompson); Shearer (Beardsley, T Speed), Ferdinand (Asprilla, Cole).

AC MILAN: Rossi; Pancaro, Baresi, Favalli, Maldini; Oddo, Costacurta, van Bommel, Lentini; Di Canio, Ganz.